Thanks to JustMyMemphis for the first issue of the monthly Connecting Memphis digital magazine! Each month will feature several stories that have appeared in this space.
"My daddy is really funny. He pretends like he has a monkey in the attic. Sometimes I don't think I believe him, but I go along with it. My daddy found videos about sewing online and we watched them together. My mom and her friend showed me some things about sewing too, like how to thread the needle and do the bobbin, and now I can make outfits for my doll Nancy. My favorite thing that I have is my sewing machine."
“I contracted polio as a small child and spent a lot of time in the Crippled Children’s Hospital and School, located on Lamar Avenue. The colored children, as we were called then, were on one floor and had one teacher for all the grades, ‘Miss Jeans.’ The white children were on another floor. They had more and better services, several teachers, and a different atmosphere. We almost never saw the white kids, although we sometimes caught a peek when we were on our way to a different part of the hospital. I spent weeks, sometimes months, there between the ages of 6 and 12, and I was alone a lot. That’s where I really became a reader. The nurse came around with a book cart, and we got to choose what we wanted. I couldn’t get up and play like typical children, so reading became my escape.
“As an adult, literacy has continued to be important to me. I’m a novelist and have attended literacy festivals all over the country. Naturally, my mind kept coming back to this thought: What can I do to promote literacy in Memphis, particularly among African- American children? Where can they go and see people who look like them who are interested in writing and reading? Research shows that if a child isn’t reading on grade level by third grade, he or she is at greater risk for dropping out of school, becoming involved in crime, and ending up in poverty. My son Kevin and I decided to start a literacy festival here in Memphis, specifically to address that concern. We began in a couple of hallways at Lemoyne-Owen College with perhaps 300 attendees, but we’re now in our fourth year and we’ve moved to the Cook Convention Center. This year's festival will be held September 18-19 and (based on last year’s numbers) we expect more than 3,000 attendees. There will be 100 authors and publishers, lots of local vendors, concessions, a children’s area, awards for readers and book clubs, and lots more.
“Yes, the idea started as a way to encourage African-Americans, which is why we called it the Black Writers and Book Clubs Literacy Festival. But that name is changing. Next year it will be called, simply, Literacy Rocks! We want everyone to know they are welcome. We don’t want to do to other people what was done to us.”
Shelia Bell, Founder and President of BWABC Literacy Association
Kevin Gray, Literacy Program Director
The 4th annual BWABC Literacy Festival will be held September 18 & 19, 2015, at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis.
"My parents moved to the United States first, and I stayed behind in Mexico with my grandparents. That was the hardest time in my life. I was only 11 years old, and I missed them a lot. I wanted them to come back, but it was another year before I saw them again. When I finally got to join them, I arrived on a Sunday and started school the next day. It was so hard. I didn't understand anything they were saying. Even if you don't speak the language, you can tell when people are saying something bad about you. You just have that feeling, you know? The first year was hard, but once I learned English, I was able to make friends."
"My mom and dad have always liked to travel. When I was a kid, they brought our family from Venezuela up to Disney World several times on vacation. It was a friendly, touristy place, and we loved it. Eventually, we all decided to move to the United States. I've been in this country for 5 years now. It's good to be exposed to different cultures. When you know many countries, your mind just broadens. It grows, and that's a good thing. Everything is different here than in Venezuela: the clothes, the food, the music, everything. One thing I've had to do is to learn English. I studied the basics in high school, but that's all I knew. Since I moved here, I've used Rosetta Stone, taken language courses, watched American TV, and talked to people. I don't think my English is that good yet, but I'm learning all the time."
Thanks so much to Choose 901 for the shout-out today!
"I'm from Mexico, but I've worked here for eight years. I really like downtown: the music, the baseball stadium, and the American food - especially hamburgers, pizza, and barbeque!"
“As part of our cradle to grave care, we deliver babies and take care of them in the hospital. One of our traditions is to sing happy birthday and then pray over the baby right after he or she is born. We always ask the family if they feel comfortable having us pray, and almost every time they say yes. I remember early on, when I first joined Christ Community Health Services, I delivered a child for a family. She was this beautiful little baby girl, and we placed her in the warmer and sang happy birthday to her. I asked the father, ‘Would you like for us to pray?’ and he said, ‘I’m a Muslim, and I’d rather you didn’t.’ I said, ‘Then I won’t, but you have to.’ He looked at me in shock, and I said, ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in your part of the world, and I’m familiar with many of the traditions there. I know you’re required to issue the first call to prayer for that child. It's your job to present to your child the first call to honor and worship God. We want to encourage you to feel comfortable doing that.’ And so he went over to the warmer---here’s this guy who, up to that point, was so strong and stoic---and he just kind of melted. He didn’t cry, but he became visibly softer. He stood over his child and issued the call to prayer, and it was an incredibly beautiful, sacred moment. You just want to honor the fact that there’s a husband and a father present. Praise God! That’s just marvelous. Who are we to deny the right for that father to issue that expression of faith? The acknowledgement of thanksgiving, the acknowledgement of a deity, the acknowledgement that there is a God, is a message that that child first received from her father. I just think that’s so sublime. It’s beautiful really.
"What I fashioned out of that story as guidance for the folks who work for me is that we are at all times to treat with dignity everyone who comes through our doors. If you have a wholehearted commitment to following God, then you should be wholeheartedly faithful in expressing love for your fellow human beings. It’s right there in the Bible: Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s not a suggestion. That’s a call. It’s a requirement. It’s exactly what Christ would want us to do.
“Christ Community Health Services was started by four medical students who literally took a blood oath that they would get back together after their separate residencies and serve in the most needy spot, they felt, in America. They settled on Memphis, and one of the reasons they chose to come here is that in predominantly Caucasian areas of the city, doctors were competing with each other to get patients, while in predominantly African-American areas, patients were saying, ‘Where’s a doctor I can go to?’ They opened a clinic on Third Street twenty years ago, and that clinic is still operating. We have eight outpatient centers now: six are primary care centers (cradle to grave, very comprehensive), one is a women’s health center, and one is a mobile primary care center for the homeless. Our clinics are located right in the communities of greatest need. Part and parcel of our mission is that we’re trying to right the wrong of health injustice, the disparity of health care. Jesus was all about justice, and that’s what we’re trying to bring about. We take care of approximately 65,000 patients, with about 181,000 discrete clinic visits every single year, and we’re continuing to grow. We serve everybody who comes, just like Jesus served anybody who came to him. We don’t proselytize; I’m not trying to convert anybody to a religion. What we do is take an oath to live out Christ in the world. What a role model he is. What a benchmark he set on how to treat people. When you talk about being an evangelistic organization, it’s put-offish to some folks; it’s just an abrupt term that has negative connotations in people’s minds. But what we mean by evangelism is sharing Christ with the world in thought, word, and deed.
“We’re not a clinic where people come in and we say ‘Hey, you get what you get; be glad of it.’ That’s not right. Jesus wouldn’t want that kind of quality; he wouldn’t like that sort of ethos. As the Chief Medical Officer, my expectation is that we’ll not only live up to the criteria of quality management, but we’ll kick butt in that regard. We attract a very committed, intelligent, and talented pool of providers from various and sundry medical schools, physician assistant programs, and nurse practitioner programs. We are ethnically diverse: African-American, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic, and over half of our site leaders are women. We have medical clinics, pharmacies, dental services, behavioral health, and spiritual health services.
“A big part of our job is to educate. Preventive health care is what we try to get at, and it’s tough, challenging work. We ask ourselves: Is the entire population getting healthier? Are we changing habits? For some of our patients there have been decades of neglect before we see them for the first time. There are reasons for that: cultural barriers, transportation issues, some don’t know how to cook properly, some don’t know how to shop properly, and some don’t have the money to live in a way that’s good for their health. As a result, we deal constantly with the co-morbid conditions of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes that then cause coronary artery disease and other vascular diseases. We’re trying to break down the barriers that prevent someone from accessing a care clinic and establishing an ongoing relationship with a provider. Patients need a medical home (which is what we are), where they can have continuity of care. If we can make that happen for a woman, a mother, then we have a chance of getting the children. We might even get that austere beast that’s called the man to come in to a clinic so that we can take care of him.”
Col. Steve Sittnick, Army Ranger, with wife Cava and newborn son:
Read the March 24, 2013 Commercial Appeal article by clicking HERE or on the image below:
Dr. Steve Sittnick, D.O.
Chief Medical Officer for Operations
Family Medicine / Obstetrics
Christ Community Health Services, 2595 Central Avenue
"As an adolescent, I was bullied a lot. They say 'sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you', but that's a lie from the pit of hell. Truth be told, words can leave emotional scars that last forever. You can heal from a wound, but you might not heal from what someone says to you. Words can hurt. Right now I'm working on a book about bullying, where I address the experiences I had as a young person and then talk about how I view them now through the lens of an adult. I'm hoping to finish it and have it out within the next few months."
“When I first moved to California, I didn’t have a dime in my pocket. A couple of days after I got there, my unemployment kicked in, but I still didn’t have enough money for bills and I didn’t have a job yet. A friend of mine showed me how to go to different agencies to get help, and that tided me over, but then I met a guy who taught me how to manage and rehab properties. He made me his #1 project leader. I’d go out and assess properties, then my team and I would rehab the properties he decided to buy. To this day, I respect and look up to that man. I came in not knowing anything about the business, and he gave me a very marketable skill and a great income. Now that I live here, I don’t work for him anymore of course, but that experience gave me something I can use wherever I go. I’ve recently purchased some property, and I'm looking to start a similar business of my own in Memphis."